SINGAPORE: E-commerce giant Amazon on Thursday (Jul 27) officially launched its Prime Now delivery service in Singapore, amid anticipation that its two-hour promise would shake up the local online retail scene.
It also touted an offering of "tens of thousands" of products, comprising popular brands in Singapore, such as Milo, Tiger Balm, MamyPoko and Pampers - all housed in its 100,000 sq ft urban fulfilment centre, reportedly the largest such facility in the tech company's stable.
Customers need to order a minimum of S$40 in products to qualify for the two-hour free delivery option, or pay S$5.99 if the order falls below that amount. They can also pay S$9.99 to get their products within an hour, and need not worry about meeting the minimum order, Amazon said.
But how does the tech titan plan to deliver on this promise?
Amazon said it was confident that its infrastructure would support its promised delivery times, citing the different model that its Singapore facility operates on, compared to its counterparts in the United States.
The novel technologies used by the Singapore facility include artificial intelligence and concepts such as random stow systems. This involves using spatial design and algorithms to locate items across the warehouse based on order frequency.
In other words, a product that has been ordered 10 times would either be placed more prominently or in more locations so that it can be easily picked up.
By comparison, a product that has been ordered just once would be placed in a less prominent position.
While the e-commerce giant’s new supply chain hub sits in a nondescript building in Mapletree’s Jurong East facilities, the warehouse itself is a bustling flurry of activity.
Several bright yellow aisles run down the length of almost half the warehouse, each with brimming shelves of assorted items. Books are stocked next to sporting equipment, mineral water bottles share a space with dolls, and toys sit alongside sanitary pads.
While the random shelving of items may seem chaotic as employees dart in and out of the aisles with carts looking for items in their order, Prime Now is confident its system works.
By stocking one or two of the same items all across the warehouse floor, algorithms are able to compute the most efficient route for Prime Now staff to pick up items from more than one location.
Once the items on the order list are found using Amazon’s high-tech algorithms, they are wheeled to the processing and bagging stations and quickly whisked through the doors to the long line of delivery cars waiting patiently outside.
This partnership between manpower and technology is what the newly minted logistics powerhouse is banking on to deliver customers’ orders within a 120-minute window.
But once these delivery vehicles leave the fulfilment centre, they have to contend with Singapore’s unpredictable traffic and rush-hour jams.
With the warehouse sitting at one end of the island and nestled amongst several other logistics hubs with their fleet of vehicles, the location may appear unwise. When this reporter was taken to the facility at 10am, entry to the road leading to the warehouse was held up by a 10-minute jam. Given the tight delivery time, every minute is to be treasured.
However, Amazon spokesperson Amanda Ip stated that all these factors were considered beforehand when choosing the site.
“This Prime Now hub sits at 100,000 square feet and it’s not exactly easy to necessarily find this sort of space in Singapore. We also look at a variety of factors when choosing our space that will fit the needs to run our business and deliver on our promise to customers,” she said.
“This is the first time we are able to service an entire country with free two-hour delivery right at launch, which is a big deal and the first of its kind. Picking where we put the fulfilment centre was a big factor and contributed in large part to us being able to do that for the entire country,” she added.
But, as with most operations of such scale, there appear to be some teething issues that Amazon will have to iron out in the days to come.
When Channel NewsAsia tried to place an order through the app on the first day of service, a message featured prominently at the top of the landing page stated that delivery was currently unavailable.
In response to enquiries from Channel NewsAsia, an Amazon spokesperson said: "We are thrilled to learn customers in Singapore love ultra-fast delivery as much as we do. Due to great customer response, delivery is currently unavailable. We encourage customers to check back soon."